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How to buy a printer...

Printers are unbelievably cheap these days.  Whether you're in the market for your first ever home printer, are upgrading or need a new work horse for the office, there is plenty on offer - at great prices.

But...before you get too excited and rush off to part with your cash, consider that buying a printer is only the first instalment in the overall cost of printer ownership. Inkjet printers consume ink, laser printers consume toner (in case you didn't know) as well as paper, electricity etc. And sooner or later, the ink/toner cartridges that came bundled with the printer - run out.

Then what do you do? Well...that depends on your printer make and model, what is currently available for it and what you want to do. With many printers, you may have no choice - except for genuine (read expensive) ink or toner cartridges. You can't refill the cartridges, can't buy generic cartridges, can't fit a continuous ink system etc. In other words...no options!

Other models are more user friendly in accepting aftermarket products and solutions. This is why it's most important to buy the right printer in the first place. Too late to learn you bought a dud - when the ink runs out. Your only option then, may be to bin the printer...and start again. Trial and error is one way to buy a printer, but there are better ways... 

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How to buy a printer - the right way...

What...how much...how often...do you print? These are the first three questions to ask yourself, before buying a printer. Your answers will pretty well decide what print technology (inkjet or laser) you should be looking at and "how much" printer you need. Next step is to consider how you prefer to connect (wireless/cable/network) and all the features you want/need. And finally the financials...how much are you prepared to spend initially and how important are the running costs? 

How much do you print?

Not much point buying an expensive inkjet printer, or a colour laser, if all you ever print is couple of text emails a week. A basic inkjet or mono laser printer will do much the same job at fraction of the cost. Sure, it may take bit longer...but so what.

At the same time, it would be false economy, to buy the cheapest printer you can find, if you print hundreds or thousands of pages per week. Entry level printers are usually slower than their more expensive cousins, ink cartridges are generally much smaller and a cheap 'domestic' printer will wear out much faster than a well built 'business' printer. Tip: when comparing print speeds, keep in mind that "advertised" print speed is just that...advertising, and few (if any) printers live up to it in real life.

What do you print?

What you print is obviously one of the key selection factors. Even though most of today's printers are multi purpose and will print almost anything reasonably well, different print technologies and printer models are designed for certain functions.

So...if you plan to print quality photos, a printer intended for photo printing will do a better job than a business inkjet or laser printer. It may utilise more ink colours, print at higher resolution, use ink optimised for glossy paper, have separate paper tray for postcard size photo paper, have a built in card/camera reader etc etc. On negative side, photo printers usually print slower and can be more expensive to run. Tip: Just because some printer model is advertised as 'photo' printer, don't expect it to actually produce a good quality glossy photo. Some do...some don't. 

If you regularly print long, multiple page documents and/or print a lot, you want a heavy duty office printer with large paper trays, decent ink/toner cartridge option and lot of RAM.

Getting the idea..?

Inkjet or laser printer?

Ink printers are usually cheaper to buy and more "flexible" to use than lasers. Today's inkjets (some) can not only print as fast and at similar quality as most lasers, but they can be a lot cheaper to operate as well. With some, you have the option of refilling your ink cartridges, or fitting a continuous ink system and buying ink in bulk at minimal cost. Another advantage of some (not all) inkjets is that you may have a choice of using different ink types - for different applications (eg. pigment ink for longer lasting prints, dye ink for cheap, high quality photos, high temperature ink for thermal transfers, edible ink...for eating, sublimation ink for transfer to non-printable media etc). But...do your research! Not all current ink cartridges/printers are 'refill friendly' and genuine ink can get pretty expensive. It's not uncommon these days for a set of ink cartridges to cost as much (or more) than a complete new printer - with cartridges.

Laser printers are generally faster, the print is more permanent and toner cartridges never dry up, like ink can - if not used regularly. So...if you don't print much, even expensive toner cartridges can work out more economical than having to replace dried up ink cartridges/printheads to make the printer work. On the negative side, toner cartridges can be very expensive and DIY refilling is generally not an option. Cheap colour lasers are usually the most expensive of all printers for consumables. If you print a lot, find a laser that takes large cartridges and make sure there are compatible or reconditioned cartridges available - even if it means paying more for the printer in the first place. Another point to consider with laser printers is the 'imaging drum' (OPC) cost and life expectancy. With some laser printers, the drum is part of the toner cartridge, so it gets replaced with every cartridge change. In other models, the drum is a separate part that needs replacing after certain number of pages is printed. With some 'cheap' laser printers, the drum may need replacing every few thousand pages and often costs as much or more than a complete printer ($150+). Other printers (eg Kyocera) come with a 100 000+ page drums, so if you print a lot, it may be worth spending few hundred dollars more initially in exchange for lower ongoing running costs. Do your research..! No good complaining once you buy the printer. Another expense worth a mention with laser printers is electricity consumption. While modern inkjets only use about 10-20W of power, some laser printers can consume as much as 1000W or more. But in reality, power cost fades into insignificance compared to toner.

What features do you want/need?

Most of today's printers come loaded with bells & whistles many people don't need, or ever use, but different makes and models do offer handy options. If you want a scanner, duplexer, print direct onto CD/DVD's, prefer wireless connectivity or network connection, need fax modem etc...find a model that can do these things. Be prepared to pay a bit more.

Single function  - or multifunction?

If you have ANY use for scanner/copier, then get a multifunction. They don't cost much more than printer only...so why not.

Will printer work with computer / operating system ?

Most new printer drivers are compatible with XP and newer Windows versions, but it pays to check compatibility. There is usually a chart with minimum OS and PC requirements printed on the box somewhere. Read it!

Individual ink tanks - or multicolour cartridges?

Despite popular belief (and printer maker claims) individual ink tank/cartridge printers are usually no cheaper to operate than twin cartridge printers, with one black and one tricolour cartridge. Individual ink cartridge printers can in fact use considerably more ink than twin cartridge models, as more ink gets used for cleaning and priming the print-heads. Unless you print mostly in one colour, or use a printer with big ink tanks, individual cartridges are only "economical" for the printer makers.  

But...if you plan to refill your ink, there are several advantages to individual cartridges. More aftermarket refill products (eg refill friendly cartridges, chip re-setters etc) are available for these and they are usually easier to re-ink as well. But the main advantage of individual cartridges (to refillers) is that the ink amount (fill volume) shouldn't decline much, with subsequent refills. A 10ml individual ink tank will in most cases still accept 9-10ml of ink...10 refills later. A twin type cartridge volume can reduce by as much as 10% with every refill, so a similar size (10ml) cartridge may only accept 5ml of ink after being refilled few times. In other words, you will have to replace twin type cartridges more often than individual cartridges.   

Can the cartridges (supplied with printer) be refilled?

In most casse yes, but not necessarily. There are printers that will not recognise refilled cartridges while others are difficult to refill successfully. Majority of today's printer cartridges and tanks use IC chips to measure the ink levels, which can cause problems with refilling. Do your research!  Are refillable cartridges available - do I need them? Will I need a chip re-setter? Can the ink monitoring be disabled? You should be able to find most of this info somewhere on this website. If you can't, feel free to contact us.

Some printers have two black ink tanks...why?

Canon, Epson and HP use two black ink cartridges with different ink in some printer models. One cartridge is usually filled with pigment ink, the other with dye ink. Pigment ink works better on plain (copy) paper, dye ink is ideal for glossy (photo) paper. The printer driver picks the correct ink automatically. Benefit? If you print mainly photographs, you can expect slightly lower (colour) ink consumption and better looking prints. If you don't print glossy photos, the second black cartridge is a waste. You still have to replace/refill it, even if you never use it. But...some of the best printers on the market use the twin black ink configuration, so don't let this put you off buying one. The extra ink cost is minimal and not worth stressing over.

Is it worth buying a used printer?

Unless you have a good reason, or the printer is near new...don't buy second hand. Replacement ink or toner cartridges often cost as much as a complete new printer (with cartridges), so used printers aren't good value...even if dirt cheap. At the same time, some older models may be better than new ones, may accept larger or cheaper cartridges or you might want to re-use cartridges from your current printer etc. So...if you think you know what you're doing...go for it.  

Where NOT to buy a printer?

Shop around for best value, but don't buy from any business you don't know, even if it's much cheaper than others. While most web based retailers are quite genuine, there are some really dodgy ones "out there". Check out a couple of online business review websites to see what other people have to say about the business you are about to deal with.

Is there such thing as a perfect printer?

Wouldn't it be great...if there was a cheap, easy to use printer, packed with all the features you dream of, that produced fantastic prints, was fast, quiet, reliable and cost nothing to run? There isn't...but if you do your research, you should be able to get pretty close.

Everyone's idea of a perfect printer is little bit different, so it's impossible to suggest a model that will suit everyone. But...some makes/models are lot more user friendly than others. If you want a reliable, easy to get on with and refillable A4 or A3 ink printer, consider a Canon (any model) with individual ink cartridges. 
 

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